Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Heart Search - Lost by Carlie Cullen

Heart Search is a first novel for UK author Carlie M.A. CullenThis is most unashamedly a paranormal romance novel. I usually don't read romance novels, but occasionally I do like a good paranormal romance. The plot, as depicted in the blurb for this book, intrigued me. I was most certainly NOT disappointed!

The Blurb:
One bite starts it all . . . When Joshua Grant vanishes days before his wedding his fiancée Remy is left with only bruises, scratch marks and a hastily written note. Heartbroken, she sets off alone to find him and begins a long journey where strange things begin to happen. As Joshua descends into his new immortal life he indulges his thirst for blood and explores his superhuman strength and amazing new talents while becoming embroiled in coven politics which threaten to destroy him. But Remy discovers a strength of her own on her quest to bring Joshua home. Fate toys with mortals and immortals alike, as two hearts torn apart by darkness face ordeals which test them to their limits.

My Review:
Two weeks before their wedding, Remy’s fiancé, Joshua, hurts her physically. Although he doesn't know why, he is changing and not for the better, Joshua hates himself for what he’s done. As he changes, so do both his state of mind and his perceptions. He disappears a few days before the wedding.
After a brief descent into an emotional breakdown, Remy heeds advice from her identical twin, Becky, to fight for Joshua. She finds a diary which leads her to believe something strange happened to her fiancé and suspects it was something he had no say in. She resolves to find him, and sets off on a long, lonely journey around the country. As the days turn into weeks, then months, she has to fight through emotional turmoil and find an inner strength just to keep going. Strange things begin to happen to Remy and she questions her sanity.

Cullen takes you into the minds and the eyes of her characters. Her descriptions are thick with visuals and layered with emotion. Joshua is sexy and compelling even though he is not always likeable, but he is a vampire so there you go. His coven is the same way. Samir, his maker is loving and caring for his ‘children’ and they in turn adore him. As individuals they are inherently selfish and uncaring of anyone but their own society, and Cullen portrays this well.

This story is as much about Remy coming to terms with the way her life has been changed and learning who she is as much as it is her search for Joshua. It is also a story about Joshua learning how to live his new life, which is well drawn and drew me in.

She portrays Joshua’s society very clearly, introducing the various factions and power struggles well, and shows how Remy becomes a central element in the vampires’ internecine battles. The unforeseen changes which occur in Remy's life are also depicted well.

I admit I found the author's style of heavy descriptions a bit daunting at first, but I quickly got into the swing of things. I really enjoyed the story and cared about the characters; so much so I couldn't put the book down until I'd finished it. Cullen tells this story in two parallel threads, which I most definitely liked. You get a good view of both Joshua and Remy as they experience their lives through this crisis and other crises which loom.

This book has an original plot, interesting characters and a unique delivery! The book is clearly a set up for a second book, which I am looking forward to and will definitely buy.  I recommend it for those who read and enjoy a good paranormal romance novel. Carlie M.A. Cullen is an author to watch!

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Dream Land, Stephen Swartz


I have long been a fan of Stephen Swartz's writing. In The Dream Land, Long Distance Voyager he has ventured into the realm of science-fiction and fantasy, and done it with his own inimitable style.
High school nerds Sebastian and Gina discover a doorway to a new world. Adventure-loving Gina falls in love with the world of Ghoupallesz and wants to stay, but studious Sebastian fears losing touch with Earth, so he returns alone. Nevertheless, he sneaks back time and time again for his own adventures before finally giving it up after too many lost loves, betrayals, and war.

Years later, working night shift at the IRS, Sebastian feels the cosmic pull once more. Gina is in trouble. Again. Of course he must return and save her! Perhaps this time, he hopes, they can remain together. Returning through the inter-dimensional doorway, Sebastian must first gather his old comrades from the war, cross the towering Zet mountains, and free Gina from the evil Zetin warlord’s castle.

Unfortunately, Sebastian finds there are more questions needing answers. Is his adventure on the other side real? Or is it just the dream of a psychotic killer? That’s what the police want to know when his friends and co-workers go missing.

Stephen Swartz has once again created a unique and believable world—both the world we live in and the world of Ghoupallesz. As always, his characters are deep and not always possessed of good intentions. Sebastian is both naïve and worldly, and he is both young and old. Gina was never naïve, with her own agenda and is not exactly straight with Sebastian (or indeed with anyone).

This is most definitely NOT a simple tale of boy rescues girl and they live happily ever after. It is instead a complex, richly layered tale of lives and deaths experienced, and also of dreams versus realities and the blurred line between. It’s a tale of discovery and coming to terms with one’s choices. I found it to be intriguing and not surprisingly, I found myself unable to put this book down once I began reading it.

I am definitely looking forward to Book II, Dreams of Future’s Past.

This review is reposted from Best in Fantasy, and was first published on Dec. 7, 2012.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Voices in the Field, by J. Allen Fielder

Many things have conspired to keep me too busy to read more than one book in the last two weeks, and that book was an epic fantasy, which I don't review here.  But I've some good news! At times, I go on binges of reading short story compilations.  In 2011 I came across one written by indie author +J. Allen Fielder, and reviewed it on my fantasy review blog, Best in Fantasy, because I loved the book and only had the one venue for reviewing books. In fact, this was why we created The Dark Side Book Review and began reviewing the many fine books NOT in the fantasy genre here.
I met the author in January 2011 through ABNA and was immediately struck by his wry wit and crazy sense of humor. Based on my impressions of him I bought his book as soon as he published it. 
I loved  'Voices in the Field' because Fielder went back to the roots of science-fiction.  I felt then and I still feel that this book is a thinking-person's sort of book. There are morality tales, and tales that are simply meant to make you go "hmm...."
The Blurb:
"Voices in the Field" is a collection of short stories by J. Allen Fielder. Titles include previously published and unpublished short stories, from the eponymous "Voices in the Field," to the humorously creepy "Mom's Eye View," these stories were written to thrill, chill, and make the reader wonder "What the hell is wrong with this guy?" Other titles include "Liquid," "Truck Stop Love," and "Homemade Pie." Stories range from horror, to mystery, to children's . . . and various points in between

I must say, Fielder delivered on his promises!
My Review:

In the first tale, which the book takes its title from, Fielder introduces us to a man whose car has broken down along a rural stretch of highway. This tale is both homey, and frightening, with a sort of Stephen King intensity. Harold is a 71 year old academic who has taken a less traveled route from Kansas State college on his back home to Corinthian College. Alas, this road is exceedingly less well traveled, and Harold's car breaks down. Being a naturally cheerful sort, he settles in to wait for a passing car to get help. To while away the time, he records his thoughts on the machine that he uses to record his notes on. He is a bit old fashioned, and doesn't have a mobile phone. He soon regrets having taken the back road. This is an unsettling story and it sets the tone for the rest of the book very well.

For those of us who are fans of horror, the fourth tale, 'Liquid' is one of the creepiest tales I have ever read. A doctor at the top of his craft is the victim of an attack that completely changes his life. It is a terrible case of 'There but for the grace of God go I', taken to an appalling extreme.

I must say, that I may never eat a pot pie again, having read 'Homemade Pie'. The twist at the end of this tale is a real surprise, and gruesome though the tale is, it is one of my favorites.

'Cowboy Up' is the tale of an urban cowboy with an identity crisis, and a marriage proposal gone awry.

'The Party Pooper' is an extremely graphic tale of two buddies who make porn films in their spare time. These are men whom I wouldn't want to know, but hey - it's all in good fun. (NOT!)

The book ends with 'Weight' a tale of a young man who has suffered a lifetime of abuse for being obese. It is not a long tale, but it is the sort of tale that would have found its way onto 'The Twilight Zone' back in the heyday of morality tales.

I could practically hear Rod Serling 's voice introducing each of these well crafted and deliciously thought-provoking tales!

All in all, J. Allen Fielder has written a wonderfully creepy series of short stories. This book is firmly on my list of keepers, and you can find it at amazon.com for the reasonable price of .99.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid, John A. Aragon and Mary W. Walters

Today I am reviewing a book that is unique in it's approach to telling the story. Let me begin by saying  The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid is NOT your daddy's western! I've long been a fan of both the authors, John A. Aragon and Mary W. Walters, and I did expect big things from this collaboration.  I was not disappointed!
The Blurb:
The West will never be the same . . . .

New Mexico, 1922.

The orphaned eighteen-year-old stablehand Rosalind Grundy is seduced by a married woman, and faces a lynching after the pair is surprised in flagrante delicto. But she manages to escape with the aid of a strange and aristocratic old man who calls himself Don Valiente.

Don Valiente, having read too many dime westerns, has come to believe that he is a famous gunfighter. He thinks Roz is a young man named Ross, and he takes her under his wing, intending to teach her and to revive "The Code Of The Caballeros."

Don Valiente and Roz embark on a series of comic adventures. But when they come upon a grisly murder scene and the trail of three escaped-convict killers, Roz realizes that her only chance to survive the imminent showdown and to reunite with her true love lies in her ability to separate Don Valiente's madness from the eternal truths in his teaching.
The Review:
Let me just say I fell in love with Don Valiente the moment he began speaking!  He is wild, wise and completely committed to living The Code of the Caballeros.  In one very moving scene, after Roz has been forced to kill a man in self defense, she sheds tears for her vanquished foe, wondering why he had to go and put himself in the position where she had to shoot him in self-defense. Don Valiente tells her that the path of the Caballero is full of compassion for the misguided souls he must usher into the next world. "Do you not think that the executioner does not recognise that even those who must pay for their bad deeds with their lives are also human beings, like him, who live, love, and know the beauty of creation?"
The wisdom Don Valiente imparts to Roz over the course of the tale is beautiful and moving. His spirituality is deep and is such a part of him that he has an enormous influence on his young apprentice. I myself have taken much of it to heart! His truths are universal, and as she begins to understand what he is trying to teach her, Roz begins to know who she is, and to be comfortable in her own skin.
Roz is young, beautifully human and is just a girl who is caught up in something that is so much larger than she is. Her motives are simple and honest. In reading this book, I felt every one of of Roz's trials and sorrows as if they were my own.  She's an unlikely hero, but she is the sort of hero that made the legends of the old west come to life.
The bad-guys in this tale are awesome, in part because they aren't all men.  Leta, Kruger and the Beast have few redeeming qualities, and they are quite frightening.  I never knew what they would do next. They are as nasty and evil as any villains I've ever met. 
If you are looking for a real adventure, a book that will widen your horizons and will keep you turning the pages into the wee hours of the night, this is definitely the book for you.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

(sic) by Scott Kelly

I love the cover; it's simple and complex at the same time.
It's difficult to find a really well-written book that has a driving concept behind it. Some start with a great idea and others have beautiful prose, but to have both interwoven in one book is a rare, lovely thing. The Age of Miracles is one - the idea that the planet's revolution is gradually slowing sings out with lush phrases.

[sic] is another. The book is about a group of kids who play a game called Eureka, invented by David, the ringleader (more about him later.) In the game, if someone gets tagged "It," they must do something in the next fifteen minutes to completely change his life. Or her life. 

At first the game is simple - a damaged, gorgeous girl gets tagged and kisses a nerdy guy in front of everyone in the school, David switches paperwork between two McMansions. But as things progress, the game and the changes inflicted by the kids themselves become more and more trippy.

That's the concept, and it's a good one. A lesser writer would have created a decent manuscript that tells the story of the kids and the game as a compelling enough read. But this is Scott Kelly, who is a real wordsmith. Look at how he describes Kent's father, the landlord of the trailer park where the Eureka players all live:
Scott Kelly, the author

Kent's dad slept under an awning. Rolls of fat spilled out from the sides of the larn chair. Dad once warned me to stay away from Mr. Gimble - fairly easy advice to follow, because the landlord seemed violent and pissed off at all times.
A sweaty thatch of faded blondhair gave way to fat cheeks and thick jowls. What struck me most was how sad Kent's dad looked. Not mad at all. Just a defeated frown, like he was about to start bawling in his sleep. Like dreaming was torment. Like it hurt to be.
I could guess the cause of his nightmares: the landlord hated being alone with himself.

The narrator is Jacob. He frames the story as he speaks to police, to a youth psychologist, and also to us. [sic] begins with David's death, and throughout the book, Jacob is trying to describe what happened. I dare you to read that first paragraph and not want to find out what happens:

My personal savior is named David Bloom, and presently he's falling about ten stories from the top of a water tower. And my stupid stunned mind; all I can think is that he looks great doing it. Arms spread, fingertips extended, face serene - homicide by stage dive. His body returns to the earth below, the ten-story drop reducing him to a streak of white and blue cloth, brown hair blown back from closed eyes. Maybe he's smiling. Maybe I just like to think so.

By the way - the story is told in the past tense, a big plus for me. I'm not a present tense fan at all. After that first paragraph, the tense switches smoothly to the past, and Kelly makes it work. And the added concept of David's fall (or flight) is extended throughout the book, as Jacob seeks the blame for David's death: "I blame the death of David Bloom on the fact that after the math, David always won. His solar system spun, and we were trapped in its orbit."

David himself is the catalyst, although his influence extends through the other kids. He is attractive: 

David's skin shone against low-hanging sun, wisps of curled brown hair a halo charged by the dawn's light. Never got a haircut his mom didn't give, so it was shoulder-length, in calm curls. 
Angry almond eyes.

The other kids are vivid characters as well. There is Kent, the son of the landlord, who could have been a simple, static character but reveals layers of personality as the story unfolds. Cameron is the damaged beauty, molested by Kent's dad, who kisses Steven, the dweeby guy. There's Emily, the girl who is "all dyed black hair and army boots." She might be one of my favorite characters, even though she is dangerous - perhaps because she is dangerous - she refuses to put up with things as they are. Perhaps it is the reason that she embraces Eureka. The kids are the players : they are called the Six.

And then there is an outsider, Nora - an overweight girl that Jacob falls for. The description of her and the growing relationship between Jacob and the girl who refuses to play the game that takes over the lives of the Six. 

That creates a great tension between her and Jacob, although the other relationships (between Cameron and Kent, Emily and Jacob, and Jacob and David himself) are also explored deeply. 

It's as if Kelly stretches things, so we can see the thoughts and feelings behind the mumbled conversations and making out sessions between the members of the Six and Nora. He finds the "liminal spaces" (read the book to find out what that is) hiding in their interactions.

There were some sections that made me pause. For example, in the second half of the book, when David talks to the Six about his philosophy, he doesn't sound like a teen but a professor. I get that he is supremely intelligent (he paints impressions of music so you can almost hear it) but would a teen kid really say, "Change is the only constant, and so we must constantly change"?

I was also disappointed that Nora became a thin girl. Over the course of the book, she loses weight and shows off her mile-longlegs and her "athletic ponytail." I would have loved the originality if Jacob had continued to fall for her, pounds and all.

However, I must say that these flaws (along with one POV change and one over-compression of events) stood out BECAUSE the book is so good. If that lesser writer had offered the book, these would have been lost, as trash inside a messy trailer gets kicked to one side. In the glowing symphony of Kelly's book, I noticed them because of the beauty of everything else.

And let me mention here, before I forget, the soaring beauty of the grackle image - those birds that pick trash near the trailerpark. They occur throughout the book, and it is a lovely, sustained metaphor.

I would still highly recommend [sic] because of the concept, the writing, the characters - and the amazing ending. The book accomplished that rare thing - it entertained me and made me think, at the same time. 

You can purchase [sic] on Amazon or add it to your Goodreads list.

As well, read more about Scott Kelly's book on Facebook or his author website.

(This review was previously published on Fresh Pot of Tea.)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

YUM, Nicole Antonia Carson

Todays review is a guest post by Carlie M.A. Cullen. Last week she reviewed the book 'Yum' by Nicole Antonia Carson on her blog, Carlie M.A. Cullen and has graciously given us permission to repost it here on The  Dark Side Book Reviews. With out further ado, I give you Carlie's review:


The Blurb: As a young man, Doctor James Lewis championed for animal rights and transformed the nation. Six decades later his friends and neighbors are eating each other. Can Jim and his great-granddaughter Emily stop the carnage before they become tasty snacks?
The Review:
I’ve been meaning to write a review of this fantastic book for months and I’ve finally gotten around to it. YUM is not your normal horror; it has shades of dark comedy and plenty of suspense. George Orwell meets George Romero in this interesting novel.
This dark comedic horror offers thrilling suspense and enough plot twists to tie you in knots!
The premise of this well-written and unique tale, set ninety years in the future, is that animals have mastered the art of speech and are equal with man. Animals are fitted with opposable thumbs and as a result they are able to fully contribute to society, hold down jobs, live in houses and socialise with other species. Consequently, in all but a few countries in the world, laws exist to protect both humans and animals alike from being eaten and if caught, the penalties are severe. The new society works well until a rash of feedings begin . . .
The two main characters, Dr James Lewis and Emily Lewis (Dr. Lewis’s great-granddaughter), are beautifully characterised. James is a champion for animal rights and spearheaded the changes to society at great personal cost and sacrifice. He is a brilliant man with a gentle soul, but at 93 years old, he needs a little help from modern science to keep his faculties intact. Carson has given this character great depth, successfully hooking the reader into liking and caring about this fragile old man. She artfully explores the different sides to his character and manages to make him jump off the page. Emily is a teenager growing up in a family of very high achievers and she feels overwhelmed and dwarfed by it. However, she has inherited her great-grandfather’s determination and love for animalkind, giving her the strength to follow her own path and not the one her high-powered mother has in mind. Again, Carson has crafted an amazing character; the reader can feel and relate to the angst Emily suffers as well as her loving nature. Emily is no pushover though and has a bit of a temper, which has been realistically portrayed.
All the supporting cast have been brought to life and each given their own personalities so you find yourself attaching to them as well.
The plot is interesting with unexpected events occurring throughout and culminates in the most unexpected twist of all. It moves along at quite a pace and the author has timed it extremely well, giving you moments of respite before the next whammy hits. The tale is very different and enjoyable.
Whilst there is a little comedy, it’s subtle and in no way detracts from the serious side. The dialogue is realistic and relatable and Carson does well to make it specific for each species. I felt the description was a little underdone in places, particularly when it came to some of the more emotive scenes. However, Carson sets the scene sufficiently for the reader to imagine what’s missing.
For me, the mark of a good book is when you want the story to continue after you’ve turned the last page and that’s what I wanted with Yum. A great and entertaining read from an author to watch!


Carlie M.A. Cullen is the author of 'Heart Search - Lost', and is well known as an editor and Blogger. You can find her blogging at http://carliemacullen.com  where she discusses everything from books to recipes.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hearts and Minds, Maria V.A. Johnson


Today I am reviewing Hearts and Minds, written by Indie author and poet Maria V.A. Johnson.  Various events have conspired this week to put me into a contemplative mood, and that is when I reach for the poetry. I found this to be the perfect book to sooth and refresh my spirit.

THE BLURB: The most important human experiences of love and death are beautifully explored in this anthology. With carefully selected and themed sections: Loss; Love; Lyrical; and Life, the emotions invoked by the words as they flow over the page will touch your heart.


I was struck by the beautifully crafted poem, The Chair. In the first few lines, we come to know the elderly person who once owned the chair, and in the final lines we feel the sense of loss the observer feels as they look upon the chair whose owner has now passed on. It is poignant, yet not maudlin, allowing the reader to absorb the scene of the chair, the reading glasses and the emptiness of the room.

Ode to my Bookcase brought a smile to my face, as I could totally relate to the sentiments expressed.  I too love my bookcase and the contents therein!

Bullied is a raw look at the emotional baggage that comes along with being the outcast, the one picked on at school. This one brought tears to my eyes.

This is the perfect book for a contemplative day. The compilation is divided into four sections: Loss, Love, Lyrical and Life, though many of the poems and odes span the boundaries between them all.

Hearts and Minds is available in both paperback and for the Kindle, both are very reasonably priced. Maria V. A. Johnson is a contributing author on the anthology The Other Way IsEssex, and is also a well-known editor, most recently she was the editor of Heart Search – Lost, a paranormal romance by Carlie M.A. Cullen.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Azalea Assault, Alyse Carlson

The Azalea Assault—first of a series set in Roanoke, Virginia and written by Alyse Carlson under the banner of the Garden Society Mysteries. Book two in the series “The Begonia Bribe” is set to be published in mid 2013.

Published in June of 2012 by Berkley Prime Crime, a division of Penguin Group

The Blurb:

Roanoke, Virginia, is home to some of the country’s most exquisite gardens, and it’s Camellia Harris’ job to promote them. But when an out of towner turns up dead, she discovers there’s no good way to spin murder…

Camellia Harris has achieved a coup in the PR world. The premier national magazine for garden lovers has agreed to feature one of Roanoke’s most spectacular gardens in its pages—and world-famous photographer Jean-Jacques Georges is going to shoot the spread. But at the welcoming party, Jean-Jacques insults several guests, complains that flowers are boring, and gooses almost every woman in the room. When a body is found the next morning, sprawled across the azaleas, it’s almost no surprise that the victim is Jean-Jacques.

With Cam’s brother-in-law blamed for the crime—and her reporter boyfriend, Rob, wanting the scoop—Cam decides to use her skills to solve the murder. Luckily a PR pro like Cam knows how to be nosy…


What I liked: I liked the people. Cam Harris is believable as the PR manager of the Roanoke Garden Society. She is struggling to keep her job, and when a famous photographer agrees to do the shoot, she manages to convince a high-profile national gardening magazine which features photographs of the finest gardens in the country to do a spread featuring the gardens of a well-known local estate and the home of Neil and Evangeline Patrick, members of the Garden Society.

Cam’s best friend Annie is an artistic, off-the-rails crazy-woman who makes cupcakes for a living (and does quite well), and her boyfriend Rob is a sports reporter who’s looking for the big story to break him out of sports and make his career.

The famous photographer, Jean-Jacques Georges is a first-class jerk. So is Ian Ellis, the Photo Editor, who takes an instant dislike to Annie. In return, she hates him on sight and there is evidence of a history of bad blood between them. When Jean-Jacques is found murdered, Cam manages to get Annie accepted as the photographer on the shoot, leading to some tense moments between her and Ian. A multitude of suspects emerge, and Cam finds out how little she knows about those closest to her. No one is what they seem, and everyone has a motive. Her beloved brother-in-law is arrested, and Cam, loyal to a fault, goes in search of the murderer.

What I noticed: There are a few moments where I found myself confused as to exactly who was talking, but despite that minor glitch there are some shining moments in the dialogue, and plenty of diversionary clues to keep you interested. I found it a fine way to while away my rainy day.

All in all I give this book four healthy stars, and recommend it if you are looking for a good cozy mystery to cuddle up with.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Flight of the Griffin, C.M. Gray

Flight of the Griffin - C. M. Gray -

Flightof the Griffin by author C. M. Gray  is a wonderful adventure for young teens but I found it fine for all ages. It is the end times for the world, and the tale opens when Pardigan, the boy- thief, steals a knife and a book from a merchant’s locked cabinet and sets the events into motion. Quint, the leader of his group of friends is the strongest and is a fighter. Loras is the boy-magician whose master died before Loras could learn what he needed to know and who’s magic never works right. Tarent is a dreamer, a storyteller and he keeps the other boys’ spirits up when times are hard.  Orphans all, they live on the abandoned boat, The Griffin.

Along with the knife and other loot from the merchant’s house, Pardigan has also gained a strange, magical talking cat named Mahra.  This cat who changes back and forth from a girl, to an owl, to a cat, depending on her mood, knows how to unlock the secrets of the magical knife and book. They do as they are told to and become the Magician, Thief, Priest and Fighter, four heroes with a task to right the balance of the world which must have equal amounts of Order and Chaos.  They have been chosen to be the Soldiers for Order and to oppose Chaos in a quest that pits them against magic, demons and ‘The Hawk,’ an evil hunter of men.

I really like the way the four boys are real – they are written as boys are, unfinished and not quite men yet, but the promise of their adulthood is there in each of them.  Mahra is an old soul (literally hundreds of years old) and is written as such, but she is also young in many ways.

The travels and adventures the boys and Mahra have are well written and believable.  The scenery and the backgrounds against which the tale takes place are rich and yet not overdone.  I would recommend this book to anyone who simply loves a good adventure.